Alex Cross rejoins the DC police force to confront two of the most diabolical killers he's ever encountered.
I WAS OUT OF POLICE WORK, and had been for a while now. So far, that was okay with me.
I was standing with my back against the kitchen door, sipping a mug of Nana’s coffee, thinking that maybe it was something in the water, but all I knew was this: my three kids were growing up too fast. Blink-of-an-eye stuff. And here’s the thing — either you can’t stand to even think of your kids leaving home or you can’t wait, and I was definitely, firmly, in the former camp.
My youngest, Alex Jr. — Ali — was going to be a kindergartner now. He was a sharp little guy too, who rarely, if ever, shut up except when he knew you wanted to know something from him. His passions at the moment included Animal Planet’s Most Extreme, the Washington Nationals baseball team, the Michael Jordan biography Salt in His Shoes, and anything to do with outer space, including a very strange TV show called Gigantor, with even stranger theme music that I couldn’t get out of my head.
Preteen Jannie had begun trading in that twiggy body of hers for a set of starter curves. She was our resident artist and actress, and was taking painting classes through the Corcoran ArtReach Program.
And Damon, who had just passed the six-foot-one mark, was looking forward to high school. So far, he didn’t whoop and shout or trash-talk, and seemed more generally aware of his surroundings than his peers were. Damon was even being recruited by a couple of prep schools, including a persistent one in Massachusetts.
Things were changing for me too. My private-therapy practice was going pretty well. For the first time in years, my life had nothing “official” to do with law enforcement. I was out of the loop.
Well, almost, anyway. I did have a certain senior homicide detective in my life: Brianna Stone, also known as the Rock, if you asked some of the detectives who worked with her. I’d met Bree at a retirement party for a cop we both knew. We spent the first half hour that night talking about the Job and the next few hours talking about ourselves — kind of crazy things like her “race-hand release” as a paddler on the Dragon Boat Racing Team. By the end of the night, I barely had to ask her out. In fact, as I think about it now, she might have asked me. But then one thing led to another, and another, and I went home with Bree that night and we never looked back. And yes, I think Bree asked me to come home with her that night too.
Bree was fully in control of herself — intense, in all the good ways and none of the bad. And it didn’t hurt that she seemed to have a natural chemistry with the kids. They dug her. She was, in fact, right now chasing Ali at Olympic speed through the first floor of the house on Fifth Street, roaring like the child-eating alien she had apparently become, while Ali used a Star Wars lightsaber to keep her at bay. “That sword can’t hurt me!” she shouted. “Prepare to eat carpet!”
Bree and I didn’t stick around on Fifth Street too long on that particular morning, though. To be honest, if we had stayed there, I probably would have been forced to sneak her upstairs to show her my nonexistent etchings, or maybe my lightsaber.
For the first time since we’d been going out, we had managed to synchronize our schedules for a few days away. I went out the front door loudly singing the end of Stevie Wonder’s very first hit, “Fingertips Part 2”: “Good-bye, good-bye. Good-bye, good-bye. Good-bye, good-bye, good-bye.” I knew the words by heart, one of my gifts.
I winked at Bree and pecked her cheek. “Always leave them laughing,” I said.
“Or at least confused,” she said, and winked back.
Our destination, Catoctin Mountain Park in Maryland, was on the eastern rampart of the Appalachian Mountains, not too far from Washington — and not too close either. The mountains were perhaps best known as the site of Camp David, but Bree knew about a campground open to mere mortals like us. I couldn’t wait to get there and be alone with her.
I could almost feel the thrum of DC move out of my head as we headed north. The windows of my R350 were down, and as always I was loving the ride of this marvelous vehicle. Best buy I’d made in a long time. The late, great Jimmy Cliff wailed on the stereo. Life was pretty good right at the moment. Hard to beat.
As we zipped along, Bree had a question: “Why the Mercedes?”
“It’s comfortable, yes?”
I touched the gas. “Responsive, quick.”
“Okay, I get the point.”
“But most important, it’s safe. I’ve had enough danger in my life. I don’t need it on the road.”
At the park entrance, as we were paying for the site, Bree leaned across me to speak to the ranger on duty. “Thanks a lot. We’ll be respectful to your park.”
“What was that about?” I asked Bree as we pulled away.
“What can I say, I’m an environmentalist.”
The campsite was definitely spectacular, and worthy of our respect. It sat on its own little point of land, with shimmering blue water on three sides and nothing but dense forest greenness looming behind. In the far distance, I could see something called Chimney Rock, which we planned on hiking the next day. What I couldn’t see was a single other person.
Just the one that mattered, Bree, who happened to be the sexiest woman I’d ever known. Just the sight of her got me going, especially out here on our own.
She took hold of me around the waist. “What could be more perfect than this?”
I couldn’t think of anything that would spoil our weekend up here in the woods.
Copyright © 2007 by James Patterson
Peter Jay Fernandez is a New York-based actor and narrator. He has appeared on Broadway in Jelly's Last Jam and The Merchant of Venice. His extensive television credits include Funny Valentines, The Prosecutors, Law & Order, and Cosby. He currently lives in Harlem with his wife Denise and read London Bridges and Cross, also by James Patterson, for Hachette Audio.
Michael Stuhlbarg attended Juilliard and received a Tony Award nomination for his work in Pillowman and an Obie Award for his off-Broadway performance in The Voysey Inheritance.